“Logos are the most ubiquitous and essential of all graphic design devices,” begins The Logo Design Idea Book, hence why setting out to create one that represents and signifies all that is unique about a company is so challenging. In this new book, Steven Heller (author of no less than 170 books on design) and Gail Anderson – both designers, writers, educators and experts on graphic design – have taken 50 of the most recognisable logos and dissected them, by way of informing and inspiring logo designers everywhere. From IBM to eBay, Windows to Lego, FedEx to the 1968 Mexico Olympics, each is given a page telling its story and analysing its components and success. The book, the latest in a series that has previously focused on illustration and typography, is also split into chapters such as “Give personality to letters” and “Include secret signs”.
For It’s Nice That, Steven and Gail have hand-picked five from the book to share their insights.
Letters can be read as words, initials or symbols. But when Peter Behrens became design director and artistic consultant for the Allgemeine Elektricitäts-Gesellschaft (German Electricity Company) in 1907, the honeycomb logo he designed was not just a stack of letters: it was a mark that altered the way trademarks or logos were constructed. Behrens was an architect who understood that a corporation was a conglomeration of many design segments – graphic, poster, catalogue, advertisement, product, interior, building and type – that were best communicated to the consuming public through a sense of unity, a very specific unified discipline that equalled a whole corporate story and separated it from any competitors. The AEG logo builds a brand without overstatement and lends a certain finesse to the entire entity. The composition of the three letters AEG suggests a triangle that is enclosed in other geometric containers. It is memorable too, which for him was essential for preserving the communication’s integrity of a multi-faceted modern business. Behrens began with the logo and from that he created a complex corporate identity, becoming the first to combine art and industry as it is practised today.
Creating an identity for an urban transit system is not simple. Developing the logo is just one small piece of a labyrinthine task that involves the coordination and synchronisation of multiple design components. Bob Noorda was an identity designer with a particular skill for graphically modernising subway systems. In 1954 he moved to Milan and then in 1965 he co-founded, with Massimo Vignelli, Unimark International in Chicago. By 1966 the men were redesigning the signs for the New York City Subway. Several years before, in 1962, Noorda’s first subway commission had been for Milan’s Line 1. Franco Albini, the Italian neo-rationalist designer-architect, asked Noorda to design, not simply a logo, but an entire wayfinding system for the subway he was building. He devised a striking, colour-coordinated band that stretched along the walls inside each station. A red band every five metres identified the station name, while a second band provided exit and transfer directions and safety signs. A sans serif font was designed for greater coordination and legibility. Regrettably, the visual flag of the design – his elegant double “M” logo, with curves inspired by Albini’s fluid station railings – was scrapped due to politics within the transit agency. Noorda’s overall design has since been replaced by the clumsy use of brighter colours and less-coordinated typefaces.
AC/DC was defined by the logo designed by Gerard Huerta, a lettering artist from California. His first encounter with the band was in 1976 when he rendered lettering for the band’s first American album release called AC/DC High Voltage. Huerta explains this was basically his illustrative interpretation of the title: “The AC and DC leaned toward each other with the subhead drawn in lightning-bolt style lettering on a circle, anchored to the sides of the album by rules.” The lightning bolt had appeared on their earlier Australian releases, but Huerta was now making it a more-prominent element. He designed lettering for the next AC/DC album entitled Let There Be Rock, an obvious reference to a biblical verse. This AC/DC album cover featured the band on stage with a dark sky overhead and light shining divinely down through the clouds. One of his sketches was based on ecclesiastical typography and, in particular, the gothic lettering famously used in Johannes Gutenberg’s moveable type-printed Bible. He had designed lettering for Blue Öyster Cult a couple of years before based on a similar idea. That lettering took on a slightly menacing look that, Huerta says, became the beginnings of heavy metal lettering. “I decided to render it in orange and bevel it dimensionally to complement the blue cast of the sinister sky.”
Crane & Co
New York-based designer Louise Fili continues to find monograms challenging. No matter what the initials are, she says, “they always seem to be the wrong ones at the start of the design process”. However, when it is completed and the letters are “cohabitating comfortably” the emblem betrays not the slightest hint of a struggle. Crane & Co. is an eighth-generation New England paper company synonymous with fine materials and exquisite craftsmanship. It needed a monogram that could be implemented across many platforms, products and materials – from the website to stationery; on paper, cloth and metal. Moreover, the mark needed to embrace Crane’s long history while at the same time representing its status as a progressive luxury brand. Fili recommended that its logotype would benefit from an overhaul: “Why buy a new dress if you are going to wear it with the same old pair of shoes?” The existing logotype, which was simply a horizontally scaled version of Trajan, had to be adjusted to work in conjunction with the monogram yet also stand on its own. In addition, she considered how the monogram could apply itself to a maker’s mark – an iconic, abstracted version that could easily be recognised as the symbol of the brand.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa), founded in 1958, was a forward-thrusting gateway to the future. As technology advanced, perceptions changed and Nasa’s graphic identity became prematurely obsolete. The first Nasa logo was designed in 1959: a sphere representing a planet, stars representing space, a red chevron as a wing representing aeronautics and an orbiting spacecraft shooting around the wing. During the 1960s, it served its trademark function well, yet by the 1970s it had lost its symbolic magic and, with it, the capacity to stimulate the imagination. In 1973, the designers Richard Danne and Bruce Blackburn were commissioned to work on a new Nasa design programme to be built around a modern logo that typographically expressed optimism in Nasa’s prowess and science’s power to conquer new worlds in outer space.
Launched eight years after the release of Stanley Kubrick’s mind-bending film 2001: A Space Odyssey, the Nasa identity programme reflected the exactitude of scientific modernism and symbolised the promise of space-age reality. “We have adopted a new system of graphics,” proudly wrote Richard H. Truly, Nasa’s administrator, in the new – now legendary – National Aeronautics and Space Administration Graphic Standards Manual, effective from 1 January 1976. He continued: “The new system focuses on a new logotype (known as the ‘worm’), in which the letters ‘N-A-S-A’ are reduced to their simplest form, replacing the red, white and blue circular emblem with the white block letters. I think the new logotype is pleasing to the eye and gives a feeling of unity, technological precision, thrust and orientation toward the future.”